LEYTON: Veteran soldier honoured on the D-Day anniversary (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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LEYTON: Veteran soldier honoured on the D-Day anniversary
A VETERAN soldier overcame initial disappointment to make an emotional trip back to Normandy for the D-Day anniversary.
Bill Allen, 89, from Leyton, had never been back to visit the places where he served as Field Marshall Montgomery’s personal bodyguard during the D-Day landings and was desperate to be part of the 65-year anniversary ceremonies.
After being told by the Royal British Legion that there were no spaces available to travel with their group, he thought he would never get the chance to re-visit because many of the aging veterans will not be attending on future anniversaries.
But family friend Mark Adams got in touch with the CEO of the Wilson History and Research Centre in Arkansas USA, Robby Wilson, who was planning to go to Normandy with Veterans and promptly invited Mr Allen accompanied by his friend for a 17-day all expenses paid trip.
The great-great-grandfather said: “The Royal British Legion said there were no spaces, which was a disappointment. "But Mr Wilson made it possible for me to go and was willing to finance it. I was over the moon. "And didn’t have to plan anything because it was all taken care of by Mark and Robby.”
Mr Allen, a widower, was called up to serve in the Second World War aged 20 and served as Field Marshall Montgomery’s personal bodyguard from 1944 until 1946.
He said of the world-famous general: “Some soldiers went to the Far East, but I was selected to go to Monty’s head quarters, so I was pretty lucky.
“He was a great man. Lots of people criticised him in the past, especially the Americans, but he had served in World War I and had seen unecessary bloodshed and did not want this to be the same, so everything was methodical in order to save the troops.”
During the two-week trip, Mr Allen visited museums, went in a helicopter ride over the city and said he was ”treated like royalty”.
But he said he was moved to tears visiting when the British Cemetery and the beaches of D-Day landings where thousands of young men lost their lives in some of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War.
He said: “Seeing all those young lads at the cemetery, they were the age I was and I could have been one of them.
“And the monument for unknown soldiers was so sad. If someone can visit a grave it helps, but when there is no body and just a name it is so terrible.”
Whilst there, Mr Adams took the veteran soldier to a ceremony attended by British, French and German former soldiers where Mr Allen had the surprise honour of being awarded Freedom of the City of Mont St Michel for services to his country.
He said: “I thought I was just going on the trip but to be awarded the freedom of the city was wonderful.”
Mr Adams, 51, a former soldier with the parachute regiment, said of the trip: “I wanted to make it a trip to remember and had to push a little bit to get it. But everyone there adored Bill.”
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